Soldier buying a ticket to the Leningrad premiere of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, 1942
The Leningrad première of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 occurred on 9 August 1942 during the Second World War, while the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) was under siege by Nazi German forces.
Dmitri Shostakovich had intended for the piece to be premièred by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, but because of the siege that group was evacuated from the city, as was the composer himself. The world première of the symphony was held in Kuibyshev with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. The Leningrad première was performed by the surviving musicians of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra, supplemented with military performers. Most of the musicians were starving, which made rehearsing difficult: musicians frequently collapsed during rehearsals, and three died. The orchestra was able to play the symphony all the way through only once before the concert.
Despite the poor condition of the performers and many of the audience members, the concert was highly successful, prompting an hour-long ovation. The concert was supported by a Soviet military offensive, code-named Squall, intended to silence German forces during the performance. The symphony was broadcast to the German lines by loudspeaker as a form of psychological warfare. The Leningrad première was considered by music critics to be one of the most important artistic performances of the war because of its psychological and political effects. The conductor concluded that “in that moment, we triumphed over the soulless Nazi war machine”. Reunion concerts featuring surviving musicians were convened in 1964 and 1992 to commemorate the event.